It wasn't a proud day for Senate Democrats yesterday, who finally broke down and abandoned their commitment to pay-go budgeting rules by passing a one-year freeze on the Alternative Minimum Tax without any accompanying tax increase or spending cut to make up the lost revenue. (Although it was a proud day for the great state of North Dakota, whose senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad provided two of the five votes--all Democratic--in favor of fiscal responsibility.) The House looks like it will soon follow suit, although it at least deserves credit for previously passing an AMT patch with an offset.
No doubt the calculus for Senate Democrats went something like this: it was never going to be possible to get 60 votes for any new source of revenue to offset the AMT, and there could have been big political fallout for Democrats if no AMT patch were passed, so the best course of action was to bite the bullet and get this off the table for a year until after the election, at which time there might be either (a) a bigger Democratic working majority in the Senate, or (b) some bipartisan interest in more fundamental tax reform, of which a permanent AMT fix would be a part. There's something to be said for this line of thinking, and I'm sure all the Democratic presidential candidates are relieved not to have to deal with this issue on the campaign trail. But it's still an ominous sign--it's easy to start making exceptions to sound budgeting rules for what seem like compelling reasons, and then before you know it you've become as feckless and undisciplined as the GOP Congress circa 2006. I'd at least like to see Harry Reid or Max Baucus or somebody state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Congress consider doing the same thing next year.
(For a refresher on why the AMT isn't as abominable as 88 senators would have you believe, see Michael Kinsley.)